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first the formal oratory of England, which had reached its acme in the preceding century; and then, perhaps more consciously, they strove to saturate themselves with the spirit of those immemorial masterpieces of oratory which help to immortalise the literatures of Rome and of Greece.
On general principles, the world might have expected America to produce public utterances of a crudely passionate kind, marked rather by difference from what had gone before than by respect for traditional models. Instead, without a touch of affectation, our orators, obeying the genuine impulse of their nature, exerted their most strenuous energy in surprisingly successful efforts to emulate the achievements of an extremely elaborate art which had attained final excellence in the days of Cicero and Demosthenes. The oratorical models of Greece and of Rome they imitated in just such spirit as that in which the masterpieces of antique plastic art were imitated by fifteenth-century Italy. Apart from its political
. significance, as embodying principles which controlled the American history of their time, their work is significant in our study as proving how spontaneously the awakening national consciousness of New England strove to prove our country civilised by conscientious obedience to eldest civilised tradition.
THE NEW ENGLAND SCHOLARS AND HISTORIANS
Such high development of mental activity as was indicated by the renascent oratory of New England is never solitary. As Emerson's niemories of Everett implied, something similar appeared at the same period in the professional scholarship of the region. From the beginning, the centre of learning there had been Harvard College, founded to perpetuate a learned ministry. This it did throughout its seventeenth-century career; and in the eighteenth century it also had the distinction of educating many lawyers and statesmen who became eminent at the time of the Revolution. Thomas Hutchinson was a Harvard man, and so were almost all the leading Boston
, Tories, of whom he is the best remembered. So, too, were James Otis, and Joseph Warren, and the Adamses, and almost every Bostonian who attained distinction on the revolutionary side. Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, Harvard College remained little more than a boys' school. It received pupils very young; it gave them a fair training in Latin and Greek, a little mathematics, and a touch of theology if they so inclined; and then it sent them forth to the careers of mature life. It contented itself, in brief, with somewhat languidly preserving the tradition of academic training planted in the days of Charles I.; and this it held, in rather mediæval spirit, to be chiefly valuable as the handmaiden of theology, and later of law too. One principal function of a true university — that of acquiring and publishing fresh knowledge -- it had not attempted.
At the close of the eighteenth century, indeed, learning at Harvard was probably inferior to that which had existed there a
In 1800, Latin seems to have been far less familiar to either teachers or students than it was to those who taught and studied under the presidency of Increase Mather. Until well into the nineteenth century, too, Harvard appeared less and less vital. In the surrounding air, however, a new and fresh spirit of learning declared itself, and the leaders of this, as well as the followers, were generally either Harvard men or men who in mature life were closely allied with our oldest college. The celebrated Count Rumford, for one, a Yankee country boy, began his regular study of science by attending the lectures of Professor John Winthrop of Harvard, before the Revolution ; and in spite of his permanent departure from his native country, he retained a keen interest in New England. In 1780 he had something to do with the founding in Boston of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which, with the exception of Franklin's Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, is the oldest learned society in America. For more than a century the American Academy has maintained, in its proceedings and its publications, a standard of learning recognised as excellent all over the world. Nor was it long alone in Boston. In 1791, the Massachusetts Historical Society was founded for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and publishing historical matter, chiefly relating to its ancestral Commonwealth. Like the American Academy, this society still Aourishes, and during its century of existence it has published a considerable amount of material, admirably set forth and often of more than local importance.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, too, certain young gentlemen of Boston, mostly graduates of Harvard and chiefly members of the learned professions, formed themselves into an Anthology Club, with the intention of conducting a literary and scholarly review. Their Anthology did not last long; but their Club developed on the one hand into the Boston Athenæum, which in ninety years has grown into a remarkably well selected library of some two hundred thousand volumes ; and in 1815, on the other hand, into that periodical which long remained the serious vehicle of scholarly New England thought, -the “North American Review.” This was modelled on the great British Reviews, — the “ Edinburgh ” and the “ Quarterly ;” and under the guidance of such men as William Tudor, Edward Tyrrell Channing, Jared Sparks, James Russell Lowell, Charles Eliot Norton, and the late Dr. Andrew Preston Peabody, it maintained its dignity for more than fifty years. The present “ North American Review,” which has passed by purchase into different control, is, however admirable, entirely changed in character.
Though the American Academy, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenæum, and the old “North American Review” may hardly be taken as comprehensive of the new learning which was springing into life among Boston men bred at Harvard, they are typical of it.
In no aspect are they more so than in the fact that none of them was indigenous; all alike were successful efforts to imitate in our independent New England such learned institutions as were among the most salient evidences of civilisation in Europe. What they stand for — the real motive which was in the air - was an awakening of American consciousness to the fact that serious contemporary standards existed in other countries than our own; and that our claim to respect as a civilised community could no longer be maintained by the mere preservation of a respectable classical school for boys. Our first outbreak of the spirit of learning, indeed, was even more imitative than the contemporary literature which sprang up in New York, or than the oratory which in the same years so elaborately developed itself in Massachusetts.
It was not until a little later that the scholarly impulses of New England produced either persons or works of literary distinction ; but the form which the characteristic literature of this scholarship was to take had already been indicated both by the early literary activities of this part of the country and by the nature of our most distinguished learned society. From the earliest period of Massachusetts, as we have seen, there was, along with theological writing, a considerable body of publications which may be roughly classified as historical. The “ Magnalia” of Cotton Mather, for instance, the most typical literary production of seventeenth-century America, was almost as historical in impulse as it was theological. Earlier still, the most permanent literary monument of the Plymouth colony was Bradford's manuscript “ History,” and such other manuscripts as Winthrop's “ History” and Sewall’s “ Diary” show how deeply rooted in the colony of Massachusetts too was a lasting fondness for historical record. Other than local history, indeed, seems to have interested the elder Yankees chiefly as it bore on the origins and development of New England. A comical example of this fact is to be found in the “Chronological History of New England in the form of Annals,” published in 1736, by the Reverend Thomas Prince, minister of the Old South Church. Prince had unrivalled opportunities for collecting and preserving the facts of our first century; but, having thought proper to begin his work by “ an introduction, containing a brief Epitome of the most remarkable Transactions and Events ABROAD, from the CREATION," he had the misfortune to die before he had brought the chronology of New England itself to a later period than 1630. A more philosophical work than Prince's was that “ History of Massachusetts” by Thomas Hutchinson, which may perhaps be called the most respectable American book before the Revolution. From the foundation of the colony, in short, New England men had always felt strong interest in local affairs and traditions, and this had resulted in a general habit of collecting and sometimes of publishing accounts of what had happened in their native regions.